RALEIGH, N.C. -- Chris Duhon took a jump shot and winced as he came back down to the floor. Such is life for a guard with a rib injury, one that could keep Duke's leader out of the lineup when the Blue Devils open the NCAA tournament.
While Duhon insisted he would play, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said the senior's availability would be determined at game time. The top-seeded Blue Devils (27-5) play 16th-seeded Alabama State (16-14) tonight in the opening round of the Atlanta Regional.
"What you saw him do out there today, that's all he's done," Krzyzewski said of Duhon's minimal work during an hourlong shootaround yesterday. "He needs to do more than that if he's going to play."
The injury probably could have been avoided. Duhon hurt himself last Sunday diving for a ball in the final of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, a 95-87 overtime loss to Maryland that snapped Duke's five-year reign as tourney champions.
Duhon rammed into the bottom of a stanchion put in place to hold a stationary TV camera. Krzyzewski was livid that the stanchion wasn't padded, but he knows the damage has already been done: The emotional center of his team, a senior who averages 10 points a game and plays great defense, won't be the same again this season, "whether we're here for one game or we go all the way," Krzyzewski said.
Even though the Blue Devils are favored by 34 points against the Hornets, the coach said Duhon will play if he's healthy, and won't be held out because of the perceived weakness of the opponent.
"I have respect for Alabama State," Krzyzewski said. "You don't want to enter the tournament half-stepping it."
If Duke wins, it will play the winner of a game between eighth-seeded Seton Hall (20-9) and ninth-seeded Arizona (20-9). A Duke-Arizona game would be a rematch of the 2001 final.
Duhon, meanwhile, said he'll just have to get used to the heavy wrap he wore underneath his uniform during practice. He plans on playing.
"I have to learn to play through it," he said. "This is something that's going to be with me for a while and I just have to handle it the right way. I'll be ready to go, as much as possible. It's hopefully my last six games, and I don't want to spend them on the bench."
Other games in Raleigh involve the East Rutherford Regional. Fourth-seeded Wake Forest (19-9) plays 13th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth (23-7) and its 29-year-old coach, Jeff Capel. No. 5 seed Florida (20-10) goes against No. 12 Manhattan (24-5) in a game many have slated as a prime spot for an upset.
"The perception right now is if we win, it's almost an upset," Gators forward David Lee said.
While upsets in the 5-12 matchup are common, no 16th seed has ever beaten a No. 1. Duke rarely bows out that early anyway. The Blue Devils -- seeded first for the sixth time in the last seven years -- have made it out of the first weekend for six straight years. The Blue Devils have won three national titles, all since 1991, and are clearly considered among the favorites for a fourth.
Still, there is an inkling that this year's team might be missing an ingredient or two, especially after the most recent events.
The loss to Maryland came just 11 days after Georgia Tech beat Duke, 76-68, to snap its 41-game home winning streak.
The two losses exposed Duke as a foul-prone team -- center Shelden Williams fouled out of his fifth game against Maryland -- that can be pushed around.
The Blue Devils also showed they may be too dependent on guard J.J. Redick's shooting touch. Redick, the team's leading scorer this season, struggled to a 6-for-17 shooting night against Maryland, and he is 21 for 68 over his last six games.
"People put their best athlete, their best defender on him," Krzyzewski said. "It can wear you down. It's a cumulative effect, and I think some of that has happened to him over the last week-and-a-half or so."
Then, of course, there were the injuries.
Also hurt in the ACC tournament were Daniel Ewing (hand) and Luol Deng (ankle). Their injuries shouldn't keep them out tonight, but Krzyzewski is concerned nonetheless.
"The main thing for me is not that we lost, but that we came out all banged up," he said.
Alabama State would like to capitalize on a team at less than 100 percent. Like so many other prohibitive underdogs, the Southwestern Athletic Conference champs insist they're not just happy to be here.
"We're here to win," guard Malcolm Campbell said. "We didn't come here just to play or see Coach K."